50 Most Bizarre Racing Moments (50-40)

Notes that I lack the time to explain will be marked with asterisks and given a brief explanation at the bottom of the article. So if you see this*, then that means a description of what I mean is given at the article’s end.


50. Arc En Ciel (Speedcar, Bahrain, 2009)

…You guys ever hear of Speedcar? No? Well…here the Speedcars were.

Turn right
From duemotori.com

Speedcars were built using little of an actual road car (I think even LESS than NASCAR cars) and ran in tracks across the Middle East and Southeast Asia in 2008, their first year. They returned for a season that spanned both 2008 and 2009 and ran just in the Middle East, and promptly went bankrupt. Several F1 veterans dotted the 15 or so car grids, such as Ukyo Katayama, J.J. Lehto (pre-prison sentence)*, and Stefan Johansson. Johansson actually suffered probably the largest crash in Speedcar`s short run when he spun on entry to one of Dubai`s slower corners and tried to bring it across the track, but misjudged the closing speed of the two drivers behind him, namely Marcel Tiemann and Marchy Lee Ying Kin, and promptly did this.

Source unknown

Race two of the doubleheader, which was opening the 2008 to 2009 season, was then cancelled due to Middle Eastern weather being, well, itself.

Jean Alesi, however, brought the series some attention at the very last second in its final race at Bahrain when he jumped the rolling start, simply deciding he didn`t feel like waiting for the guys controlling the lights (admittedly they were taking forever) and getting a massive headstart.

Yeah to hell with you guys

You`d think they had done a standing start by how much of a gap Alesi gained. Not only were they actually doing a rolling start, but Alesi started 16th, which was last! He would eventually fall back and finish tenth in the final time around for Speedcar, an interesting idea that really no one cared about. If you`re curious who the champions were, Johnny Herbert won the first season`s title, and Gianni Morbidelli the second.

…Also, note the sponsor on Johansson`s car. Yeah, that`s how little money they had.


49. Hindrance (NBS, Chicagoland, 2004)

Todd Szegedy, a Modified veteran, decided to hop up to the Busch Series for a couple of races in 2004. Joe Nemechek gave him a shot in one of his cars, and Todd attempted four races, making three. He didn`t do terribly, as in the two races he finished, he placed the car in upper midfield. However, Todd returned the Mods after 2004, and has continued to run up front on a consistent basis.

Bring this track back plox
Credit to NASCAR Home Tracks; Szegedy is in the #2

Todd`s season highlight was at Joliet during qualifying. Oh hey, look, a giant inflatable orange!…I swear that`s a tangerine, actually. But whatever. During one of his laps, it came loose and started rolling down the circuit in three and four. Todd was allowed to do another lap after this. He made the race but crashed early. Admittedly, though, the 2004 Tropicana Twister 300 was a bizarre race in and of itself, being won by Justin Labonte after Mike Wallace ran dry on the final lap. Labonte didn`t finish inside the top 12 at any other point in the season. Oh yeah, and Bobby Hamilton Jr. won the pole, only to blow up before lap ten.



48. Battle Hymn Of The Talentless (USF2000, Atlanta, 1999)

The ‘talentless’ being Larry Foyt…

USF2000 is more or less a Formula Ford series…more or less. The series got started in 1990 and ended in 2006, then was brought back in 2010 as part of the Mazda Road To Indy. They do oval race, having done so a lot more in the pre Road to Indy era, though they still turn left once a year at IRP…well, usually IRP, this coming season it`s not on the schedule for some reason (instead their oval race is Iowa). As to why they don`t do so more often, well…

Talent? Maybe
Credit to TrackForum

Atlanta 1999. But that`s not the real highlight. The real highlight is what they did in the three or so years prior.

When USF2000 started doing some testing at the new Miami Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in 1996, they immediately noticed that this would be a no go. Instead of giving up, they put their heads together and decided on something rather bizarre. They`d use the esses on the backstretch! So the cars would pile into turn one and two, then peel off onto the esses instead of running three and four (this was of course when this track was a rectangle). As to whether or not they were able to demonstrate this during a race weekend in 1997, I`m actually unsure, but I do know that the 1997 schedule saw a support race to the IRL at Charlotte. Again, testing proved that the cars would need a slowdown area, so they did one of the strangest things I`ve ever seen.

The cars ran a chicane, but it was on the frontstretch. They would take the road course hook, which is a little ways down from the short track`s first and second turns, and follow it a short distance. The road course usually would then cross the pit road and enter the infield, but instead of doing this, the USF2000 cars would make a very hard right onto the pit lane when they reached it, and follow it into turn one. They would then continue the oval as normal.

Screencap; A few seconds after this, the second car in line, Greg LeMond, would go off in the chicane and flip after hitting a set of water barrels, destroying the car but not injuring Greg (and yes, I do believe he is THE Greg LeMond, the famous cyclist)

…This worked, funnily enough. Homestead was definitely on schedule in 1998, and Charlotte returned. Also on the schedule was Atlanta, which also used the frontstretch chicane strategy despite having one in turn three already. All three of these races were doubleheaders. 1998 also had two full ovals on schedule, Phoenix and Disney.

1999 saw a doubleheader weekend announced for Charlotte and Atlanta, with Homestead off the schedule altogether, plus two ovals at Pikes Peak and Phoenix. Charlotte went on like normal, but then the promoter at Atlanta suggested, `Why not ditch the chicane?` Officials agreed, but several drivers didn`t and pulled out. The series had seen 30 car fields so far, but only 23 drivers (including a young man named Dan Wheldon) were up for running Atlanta. The doubleheader, which was supposed to consist of two 30 lap races, was turned into a 24 lap qualifying race and a 34 lap main. Somehow the qualifier went off all right, but the main event saw a crash. Of course.

Two cars making contact in the quadoval triggered a Big One that sent Larry Foyt flipping and several cars into the wall. Panama`s Arnold Brinkmann was found unconscious and not breathing when paramedics arrived. As one tended to Arnold, the other radioed in to his superiors, who decided that the race should be concluded then and there, which it was. Steve Rikert was declared the winner after 18 of the scheduled 34 laps. What actually happened to Brinkmann in the crash was never stated, but whatever the case, the first paramedic got him breathing again pretty quickly, and Arnold would be all right. This race was televised and the crash is available for you to see on Youtube via a basic search.

A poor video still
Low quality screencap

USF2000 stuck to the one mile ovals after this, and soon they were dropped and the series stayed on the road courses until the end of the initial incarnation in 2006. Star Mazda stopped by Homestead in 2000, and they used the backstretch esses as a slowdown area just like the USF2000 had. They didn`t return the next year, and the `Ovals with slowdown areas` idea was ditched completely, except for a quick return when the Pirelli World Challenge stopped by in 2007. In their case, they didn’t have a choice, as the infield was being repaved…


47. Black And White (NWS, Talladega, 1986)

I think you know this one.

When the command to start engines at the 1986 Winston 500 was given, not everyone had stepped into their cars. Specifically, the pace car driver was out talking to a few officials still. A young man in the pits noticed that this was the case, and that the driver had even been naïve enough to leave the keys in. Seizing his opportunity, the man, who had downed several beers by that point, hopped in the red Pontiac Trans Am and took off around the track. His 100mph joyride lasted a bit under two laps, as Alabama`s finest and track officials set up a roadblock off of turn four. The man seemed ready to plow through the roadblock, but eventually decided not to bust through them and instead slowed. The black and white approached swiftly and they ripped the man, twenty year old Darren Charles Crowder of Birmingham, out of the vehicle. The crowd was heard cheering for the cops on the broadcast (you`d think they would be cheering for Crowder), and he was taken into custody.

22922006.stolenpacecar (1)
Credit to Steve Cavanah

…I haven`t been able to find anything else about Darren, however. You`d think he`d be about as famous as Steve Bartman, or at least a sort of pre Internet Steve Bartman, but I`ve found very little on him…D.C. Crowder? More like D.C. Cooper, you know?


46. The Letter, ‘R’ (NBNoS, Watkins Glen, 2002)

While the 2002 Little Trees 150 Busch North race was famous for Troy Williams vaulting the barrier on lap one and almost falling into a spectator tunnel, I`m actually not including it, as I find something from later in the race even stranger. Dennis Demers, a journeyman out of Vermont who had few words to say and an `I race for fun!` attitude, learned just how fast the esses are via a well taught lesson.

Who names their kid Trampas? Dennis did, apparently
Source unknown

Cars just couldn`t stop rolling that day. Williams and an unknown driver (possibly Martin Truex Jr., of all people) had gone for wild rides during the first lap pile up, but there was actually another flip that cameras only caught the aftermath of. Yes, three cars rolled that day. Dennis Demers blew a tire just past halfway. Unfortunately, it was the left front in turn two. Demers` 86 car went straight into the wall and, according to Demers, didn`t bounce off, so it may have gotten on top of it. The crash ripped the guardrail apart in several spots, some on the top half, some on the bottom half. It was like a lattice with several random pieces missing. Demers` car basically dropped onto its roof in the crash. Fortunately for Dennis, he was driving a stock car, not an open wheeler*, and climbed out unscathed.


The weird thing about this crash is just how the guardrail ended up. It was very much a sort of `one piece missing here, one piece missing there` case, and since Speed Channel never got a replay, we dunno how exactly this was accomplished.


45. Americans Do It Wrong (V8Star, Lausitz, 2003)

Touring cars…oval racing?

V8Star was a series that ran for three years in Germany between 2001 and 2003. It was somewhat along the lines of DTM, and besides what it did in 2003, wasn`t anything special. In 2003, however…

CART isn`t the only series to oval race at Lausitz. ASCAR, the American style stock car series that mostly ran at Rockingham in England, made a couple trips to Lausitz, and in 2003, V8Star scheduled a few visits. Four races were run at Lausitz, one road race and three oval races.

The first race in May was the road course, and it went fine. One oval race was held in early July, and it was annulled. I tried my best to find the reason as to why it was annulled, but I don`t know German. But, whatever the reason, the race awarded no points.

Later that year, they stopped by to support the German 500 with two races to end the season, and ultimately, the series. Not much more to say other than the fact that touring cars are oval racing…oh, and German F3 stopped by the oval in 2005 and 2006, but those races went fine. Could you guys, like, accept that you won’t be using the oval at Lausitz very much anymore? And that there is no need to modernize it for 2018, since NASCAR doesn`t seem willing* to send the Euro guys either there or to Rockingham (probably a smart move, though)?


The funny thing is, there was a stranger series that ran an oval, the Thundercup cars or whatever they were called that ran Charlotte`s oval. The field sizes were pitiful at about eight or so, but they got some TV time (usually during the Summer Shootout), and always put on great shows. Don`t know what series I`m talking about?…Remember when Tad Segars rolled his car through the trioval, only to cheer when it came to a stop, something the guys found so entertaining that they showed it during a Truck Series segment in 2008 (forget if it was qualifying or the race)? Yeah, that series. But V8Star gets the spot since the Thundercup guys were awesome.


44. Melody Of Idiocy (DTM, AVUS, 1995)

…AVUS is one of the few tracks that I think DID have to close. It was a classic, but it was behind.

1995 was a terrible year for the track at the Automobil Verkehrs und Übungsstrasse. The classic street circuit had been slowed again with another chicane, yet this barely helped the insanity. The track, once twelve miles long and possessing a massive banked turn, was now a mile and a half and full of slowdown areas. Finances were getting tough, safety was becoming an issue, and the reunification of Germany meant traffic was plentiful again, so officials were taking the possibility of ending AVUS seriously.

Complete credit to GTX Forums

The Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft is pretty much the same thing as Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, being Germany`s `big` series. In 1995, organizers decided to add an International Touring Car Championship that raced in Europe (mostly in Germany), and make the ITCC a sub championship comprising of the DTM series` international races. The DTM`s first run was done in by the officials pushing the ITCC forward into the limelight, and in 1996, the DTM name was thrown out. The ITCC still ran quite a few German races…confused? Well…

Until 1995: DTM
1995: DTM (ITCC as a sub championship, i.e. person who gets the most points in the German races wins the DTM title, and the person who gets the most points in the int’l races gets the ITCC title, with the overall title going to whoever gets the most overall points)
1996: ITCC

The ITCC was ridden of after 1996. Fans never really cared for it, and thus profit was low, an issue considering they ran two non European races at Interlagos and Suzuka. In 2000, the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters began…whew!

…All right, summary of the incident…this. Right at the start.


Right off the rolling start, one car turned another, and the whole field, which had twenty two cars in it, self destructed. One driver, Kurt Thiim, got away from it, and the race was quickly ended and annulled, so no points. However, Kurt was still credited with the victory, and thus received a trophy for it, though due to its annullment no money and no points were awarded. Everyone was all right after this incident, but about six cars were completely unsalvagable. AVUS eventually closed after 1998, but was used one more time in 1999 for a farewell race.

1995 at AVUS also saw the fatal crash of Keith O`Dor in the Super Tourenwagen Cup, which was basically for BMW and Audi (who had ditched the DTM after 1992) to play around in. It started in 1994 and, when DTM ended, it was almost advertised as its replacement. When DTM returned in 2000, STW was no longer needed (though in actuality, this was mostly due to the price of Supertouring cars going up). There was yet another bizarre accident in 1995 at AVUS, that being when German F3 star and future F1 racer Alex Wurz got dumped by the safety car…but I`ve gone on long enough. Basically, learn how to start the race, guys.


43. Eternity Awaits (NSCS, Atlanta, 2009)

How dumb do you have to be?

Probably the fourth fastest track on the schedule, Atlanta Motor Speedway is also a little longer than the other quadovals, but that`s the extent of the differences. Hitting 200mph is a little tough at Charlotte and Texas, but is much easier at Atlanta. This also means that crashes can hurt a lot more.

So why are you running onto the racing surface unprotected?

#47 Marcos Ambrose`s pit crew saw a tire roll away from them, across the pit lane, and into the grass around where the short track is. Enter the guy who thought it would be a good idea to fetch the tire. Forgetting both what common sense was and that there have been not one, but two crew member fatalities at Atlanta (both due to speeding, however), a crewman, who, unlike what many outlets stated, was not a tire changer (he was the gas man) sprinted across the pit area and onto the grass to fetch the uncontrolled wheel. It likely would have warranted a caution, but now it definitely did, and much earlier than was necessary. This completely screwed things up, and all because Jimmy Watts, the crew member involved, thought it would be a good idea to run out onto an active racing surface. Watts would be ordered to sit out the rest of the race and was suspended for the next four events, and the crew chief of the #47 was put on probation for the rest of the year (as was Watts).

You know something? Marcos agreed
Credit to The Final Lap

The funny thing is, this wasn`t a twenty year old newcomer making this error. Watts was, at the time of the incident, 37 plus or minus one year, and had been a gas man since at least 2002. You`d think he`d know better, from having seen footage of pit road crashes during training, and from experience, as Watts, a firefighter by profession, has had at least one instance of going into a burning building with a comrade and coming out alone…YOU`D THINK HE`D BE SMART…but I guess he left his brain at home.


42. Nine Gates (NBGNS, Bristol, 1990/2002)

Where was he in that mess, anyway?

Probably one of the more horrifying kinds of accident in motorsports is when the car gets cut in half. This is extremely, extremely infrequent, but it has happened, usually occurring when a car hits an unsecured gate or gets struck especially hard.

Vinny Green’s car sits inverted after a crash at Wall Stadium in 1981 that split the car in two; Vinny was unhurt, amazingly enough; Credit to Pinterest


Bristol Motor Speedway knows this too well. It’s seen two instances, both in what’s now the Xfinity Series, but was the Busch Series at the time. In 1990, Michael Waltrip, later famous for being the flip* king of NASCAR, made contact with Robert Pressley and shot up into the turn two wall. The car hit a gate and was sawed in twain, but he was okay.

Credit to Randy Ayres

In 2002, Mike Harmon hit the same gate during practice at a more glancing angle rather than Waltrip’s more straight-on angle. Harmon’s car burst open, and Harmon was left exposed to oncoming traffic. Johnny Sauter piled into the wreckage, coming about a foot away from hitting Harmon directly. Sauter was convinced he’d just killed Harmon, but was eventually calmed down and told otherwise. Apparently, the hit was so close to the driver’s compartment that officials later found Harmon’s steering block in what was left of Sauter’s car. Harmon was battered and bruised, but all in all okay.

Source unknown

Tracks are slowly moving away from gates and are beginning to start using to use underground tunnels to get from the outside of the track to the inside. Due to Bristol’s very compressed nature, track owners were reluctant to make the transition, but when they saw the alternative, well…

These two moments are too similar to…incoming horrible pun…separate…so I’ve included them both on here.


41. Runaway (NWS, Riverside, 1988)

…No quirky comment here, I`m here to jokingly diss people, nothing more.

Not much is known about Ruben Garcia, but what is known is that Ruben, from the Riverside-Los Angeles area of California, was a self-made journeyman with a love for racing. He ran a program that assisted drivers who wanted to race but simply did not have the money to do so with sponsorship, though the specifics of this program are unknown.

May wanna fix that as well

Garcia enjoyed stock car racing, and took to Riverside whenever NASCAR ran there. In 1988, during the very last NASCAR race at Riverside, Garcia drove his #32 car to a pretty good top 20 spot, but it all ended when something broke a third of the way in. The Chevrolet veered left off of turn nine and found a very large opening in the concrete, as in, wayyyy too large. The car hardly lost speed as it plowed through everything there. First to go was a tire wall in front of a steel guardrail, which the car easily folded. Then, a chainlink fence was ripped wide open, followed closely by a brick wall with a set of barrels behind it. Thankfully, this slowed the car enough so Garcia did not enter the crowd, though he certainly came close.

Should we fix THAT...eh, if we must...
Credit to WOI Encyclopedia Italia

The red flag would be warranted for this as NASCAR tried to construct a temporary barrier as best they could. Ah, the days when NASCAR still cared…Garcia was all right, by the way. He is not related to NASCAR Mexico standout Ruben Garcia, Jr.

Riverside closed the next year. After the NASCAR guys stopped by, the Stock Car layout was decommissioned, and a new shorter layout was used for the track`s very last twelve months.


40. Drumsticked (Formula Truck, Interlagos, 2010)

Did I startle you?

Bruno Junqueira`d fallen pretty far from his open wheel days* when he decided to race tractor trailer units in his home country in 2010, and things were gonna get worse.

Racing tractor trailer units is popular in Brazil, though series for it exist really everywhere, even in America (in fact, wasn`t there a big rig series in the eighties that raced on NASCAR ovals such as Pocono and Atlanta, along with dirt tracks like DuQuoin?…Well, that`s defunct now, but there are a few big rig series today in the States). These beasts are heavy, but their speeds are limitted to an absolute maximum of 125mph, with between 100 and 110 usually being the top speed reached. The best bet for passing are the turns, and drivers just have to hope their brakes don`t explode…

At Interlagos that year, Junqueira`s truck did just that, leading to a horrible crash.

images (1)
Credit to Globoesporte

Diumar Bueno was minding his own business when Junqueira launched over the back of his vehicle, ripping the cab off the Volvo as Junqueira`s Ford launched into the air, almost coming down on the cab of Bueno. Thankfully, when Junqueira did come down, it was on a tire wall, and Bueno`s cab slid free. As Bueno`s chassis began rolling off on its own, Bueno`s cab did two belly rolls, before landing right side up. Junqueira turned side over side through the air in the meanwhile, coming back down to earth inverted.

Bueno hopped out of his cab pretty quickly, and was interviewed at the crash site, of all things. Junqueira was eventually extricated and was okay. This is not the first time a cab has come loose, nor would it be the last. In fact, it wouldn`t even be the last for Diumar Bueno…but let`s not talk about that.

Credit to Yahoo Esportes



Lehto: Lehto was sentenced to four years in prison not long after his stint in Speedcar ended. Lehto was drinking while piloting a boat, and he crashed, killing a friend of his, said the prosecutor.

Wheeler: The guardrails at Watkins Glen have uprooted and killed open wheel drivers in gruesome fashion at least twice in the past.

Willing: Despite Europe having a couple big ovals, the largest oval NASCAR Euro runs as of 2017 is a half mile.

Flip: He’s flipped five times: Sears Point 1989 (this was in practice), Daytona 2000, Texas 2002, Daytona 2004, Talladega 2005

Days: Junqueira has started the Indianapolis 500 on at least one occasion.


Author’s Note: Two Apologies

I’ve got two things to apologize for.

First, I apologize for the rather insensitive use of the post-crash photo of Peter Lenz. That article is far from my best, and one of the many errors I made was to assume that the image link would show up instead of the image itself. Therefore, I blurred the image and reposted it.

Second, I apologize for lack of material. I blog on another site (known as racing reference, which is a site for collecting race results, though it does have a blog section) and repost my blogs here, but haven’t done much beyond a Top 50 list that I will repost here upon its completion. The upside to this all is that any errors I made on racing reference, which does not allow you to edit your blogs once you’ve posted them, can be fixed here.

I will hopefully finish the list and repost the whole thing in early January. Until then, I’ll see you guys round.

The Ridiculous Crash Of Radoslaw Kordecki

The Slovakiaring. Opened in 2010, this 3.36 mile circuit, the country`s only one, is, to put it simply…wide. Sixty metres wide is the front chute, and there`s a lot of room to run elsewhere. That doesn`t mean it`s an easy circuit, as the corners are angled as such that you`ll still go off into the barrier for taking them too fast, but you can get out of danger when it makes itself known.

…During a combined sports and touring car race in the track`s first year, someone stalled on a chute and a safety truck headed out to gather their BMW. A caution flag period, or, as it’s known in Europe, a safety car period, was warranted, and the field slowed down to get behind the safety car (the European term for the pace car). However, a rather large list of drivers decided to ignore the safety car and maneuver back and forth around the track at higher speed than permitted. The race director noted that most of the drivers ignoring the safety car rules were from Poland. Were they all like this back home, or did he just get a stale batch of drivers? He was not really sure himself. However, stale had become stall, and stall would soon become stopped, when one of the Poles did something even more idiotic.

Radoslaw Kordecki; Screencap, as it was the only way I could get a picture of someone I knew for certain to be him

40-something Radoslaw Kordecki was driving a lovely Ferrari 430 GT3, and found it a good move to pull in line with the safety vehicle and start accelerating to get by some traffic. While I do not know as to whether or not this was legal (you can pass lapped traffic and stalled cars under safety car, but not still-functioning cars on the same lap or at least a lap ahead of you, and I don’t know as to what lap they were on), common sense was lacking in terms of the line he chose.

Kordecki seemingly noticed the solid object right in front of him and only now panicked. He hooked the car, which was likely doing double the speed for the slow down area, hard to the left. A tragic crash had been averted.
…And then this happened, as evident in a set of Youtube videos, at least one of which has over 200000 views…

Tops the wall
There he goes
This`ll hurt in the morning

Danica10Racer was here
Credit to Formule.cz

Somehow dodging every single car in his path, Kordecki spun at a strange angle into the armco. The steel gave way, and the Ferrari flew over the barrier, rolling three times and forcing the red flag, meaning the race would have to stop. Oops.

Kordecki suffered some burns in the crash, but he returned home not too long after. As for the Ferrari…well…

Slovakiaring is still open, continuing to see mostly national events, with the biggest series coming by in 2017 being the European Truck Racing Championship for tractor trailers (yes, they do race those). As for Radoslaw, he’s still around, but has switched to racing Porsches.

Who Was Russell Phillips?


Back in the nineties, NASCAR’s upcoming stars had a couple ways of working their way up. They could compete in the Busch North/Winston West series and see if they got noticed, they could work their way up the ladder through the late models and then to the Trucks when they came around in 1995, they could go to the Dash Series or maybe the All Pro Series or regionals, or they could compete in the ASA, Pro Cup, or ARCA, and try to find success so maybe an owner could give them a big break. Or, up until 1996, they could try the Sportsman Division.

In 1989, the Sportsman Division commenced. It ran the Charlotte Motor Speedway exclusively in its first year, but started running at New Hampshire and Richmond the next year. 1991 saw New Hampshire get switched out for Pocono, and Richmond was dropped after that season, but Charlotte continued to hold the bulk of Sportsman races.

Sportsman cars, which were actually just old Winston Cup and Busch cars, were also notable for how much they had had their speed restricted. For reference, pole speed at the first of the two Pocono races in 1994 was 164mph for Cup, 158 for ARCA, and 142 for the Sportsman.

Russell Phillips was a mainstay whenever the series stopped by Charlotte. Usually running a white #57 car, Russell was a local driver looking to ascend the ladder.

2016-11-13 12.10.19
Credit to SCR

Russell Lee Phillips, nicknamed “Bubby” due to his stature, was born on March 6th, 1969 in Charlotte, North Carolina to Robert and Sadie Phillips. He was one of four children, and was likely the youngest. From the get-go, Russell, who eventually settled down in Mint Hill, a suburb of Charlotte, was a fan of racing, and after running the local short tracks for a couple of years, he moved up to the NASCAR Sportsman Series in 1990.

2017-04-14 14.00.36
Russell in the early 90s; Credit to The Charlotte Observer


Sources vary as to what Russell did by trade, some stating that he worked as a car detailer for James Finch’s Busch team and others stating that he worked for his father’s trucking business. It’s probable he did both at different points.

Russell volunteered for the Mint Hill Fire Department when he found the time. Russell was often seen as a squeamish gentle giant by his co-workers. In fact, several of them recounted that Russell, who was 6-foot-2 and 250 lbs., preferred to direct traffic during high-alarm calls due to the possibility of coming across fatalities, though he would immediately gear up and venture inside if left with no other options. Russell also offered his services to a local racing school on occasion, and also served as the Youth Pastor at his local Baptist church.

During one of his first Sportsman starts, Russell met Jennifer, a young lady wandering the Charlotte pit area during an autograph session. The two eventually married in 1993. They appear to have had no children.

Russell and his wife
Credit to SCR


The NASCAR Sportsman Division, from the getgo, had many detractors. The most frequent argument appears to have been that simply slowing down the cars was not enough to make the series safe. While the cars possessed every safety mechanism required in the Winston Cup at the time sans roof flaps, driver injury and death were alarmingly frequent. The reason behind this can be boiled down to one solitary thing: driver experience on large tracks. What would often be a single car spin in the Winston Cup Series or a two car collision in ARCA could easily become a jarring six car pileup in the Sportsman Division.


The first Sportsman fatality was in 1990, when 27-year-old newcomer David Gaines spun in the midst of a multi-car crash during a practice session and was struck in the rear at full speed by Steve McEachern of Arizona, sending McEachern upside down. While McEachern, an off-road veteran attempting to make a foray into stock car racing, survived with injuries to his hands, Gaines, a race car builder and engineer out of Goldston, North Carolina, was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital.

2017-04-14 14.01.33
Credit to The Charlotte Observer

In May of 1991, the injuries continued. Ed Gartner, Jr. plowed into Tom D’Eath during a pileup in turn four, sending both to the hospital with broken bones. That same month, Phillip Ross was involved in a large crash at Charlotte and injured his neck in addition to suffering burns. Ross survived.

The car was surprisingly still salvagable, but Ross retired from the sport immediately after. He sold the car to 40-year-old James Gary Batson of Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Batson, who raced using his middle name as his first name, entered into the 1992 Sportsman Division.

During the last chance qualifier for the race that May, Floridian Neal Connell was going side by side with Batson for tenth when the two collided while avoiding a spinning car. The pair struck the wall, and Batson’s car was pinned driver’s-side-down against the fence, eventually coming to a stop like that in the quadoval.

Connell was unhurt, and while Batson flashed a thumbs up to officials to show that he was also unhurt, the situation quickly turned terrifying when a massive fire started. It was extinguished in about a minute, but Batson suffered fatal burns. He died the next morning.

Everyone who saw the crash said that it was a freak accident, and the speedway agreed, though the rather iffy response time did receive some criticism. Batson, a restauranteur by trade, had done some short track racing in the past, but was new to the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Credit to Findagrave

Robbie Faggart was the series’ inaugural champion that year, as the series had mostly been an exhibition series up until that point. During the final race, Mark Purcell suffered severe injuries in a crash.

1993 went somewhat smoothly for the series, and Russell Phillips got some TV time during some of the races, as the Sportsman events were usually shown either as short highlight reels or on tape delay. 1994 saw a few injuries, such as Red Everette suffering minor burns in a crash and an axle flying off of a car and injuring two crew members, but all in all went much more smoothly than 1992 had. Up until the sixth of seven races, known simply as the Winston 100, on October 6th, the 1995 season looked to be a repeat of 1993.

The #57 Hendrix Office Machines Oldsmobile Cutlass, which had once been used by Bobby Allison in the Busch Series, sat on pole for the first time. Russell, whose best finish in a Sportsman race had been 11th, led the first two of the race’s sixty seven laps.

Usual procedure for when the series ran at Charlotte in the fall was for qualifying to be Tuesday, a race Wednesday, and then another, separate race to be held later that weekend, qualifying for that race being on Friday and the race on Saturday. This time, however, Hurricane Opal postponed the Wednesday race to Friday, so teams had one day to get their cars ready for the second event.


Phillips then started to fall back, but still kept up with the pack in about tenth. On lap 37 (may have been 17, but most likely was 37), the #83 Chevrolet of Virginia’s Joe Gaita hit the #91 Oldsmobile of Tennessean Morris Bice and they went spinning. The #20 Chevrolet of Ronnie Sewell saw Gaita’s spinning car make its way back onto the banking, and so he went to the high line. Russell’s spotter and crew chief, his older brother John, told him to go high, as did the spotter for the #99 Midway Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo of 21-year-old newcomer Steven Howard of Greenbrier, South Carolina.

Steven Howard
Steven; Credit to Richard Cunningham

No one’s sure exactly what happened, but it appears Russell, running the extreme outside just behind Steven, shifted down the track for whatever reason. The #57 was faster exiting the corner, so it’s possible Russell, distracted by the crash, attempted to pull behind Steven and follow him back to the caution, unaware that he was actually alongside the #99.

The crash begins
From left to right: Gaita, Bice, Sewell, Howard (barely visible); Screencap
2017-04-26 22.02.12

Officials told Steven that the crash was on Russell, though Steven insisted otherwise. Whose mistake triggered the accident was immediately made irrelevant, however, as the result was the worst crash NASCAR has ever seen.

Russell’s left front wheel collided with the right rear of Howard, and Howard’s momentum from climbing the banking sent both cars up the track and into the wall, whereupon both cars went flying, Howard on his drivers door and Phillips passenger door down against the catchfence. With little reinforcement, the #57 car’s roof collapsed, and Phillips died upon impact of massive head injuries. Both cars rolled back and stayed together as they slid to the infield grass.

Credit to benhuset.dk


When the cars came to a stop, there was silence on the speedway. Steven Howard immediately evacuated the #99 car and rushed to the infield, unhurt but terribly shaken.

Response to the accident from marshals was quick but in vain from the getgo. The first man on scene quickly put out any residual fire with an extinguisher, and then made the mistake of looking into the cockpit area. He turned to a colleague and made a cutting motion with his hand in front of his neck. The man then paused for several seconds, likely to gather his thoughts, and then looked at his watch to determine a time of death, around 4:20 p.m. Some of the crew knew what the gesture had meant, and some, including John Phillips, either hadn’t seen it or hadn’t registered its meaning.





Okay?…Let’s begin.

When it hit the catchfence, the Oldsmobile’s roof was sheared off, and Russell was savagely decapitated and dismembered by a caution light which had easily pierced the collapsing windshield. The photographers in turn four, which was otherwise mostly vacant, were subject to a terrible shower of vermillion, as were several fans at the edge of the quadoval stands. Several items had gotten stuck in the catchfence itself, including the car’s window net and, most horrifyingly, Russell’s right hand, still in its glove.

Officials quickly got to work, putting up sheets along the catchfence to prevent the spectators from witnessing the cleanup, a task they carried out with surgical gloves. One bystander in the pit lane remembered seeing fans laying on the ground in the stands and thinking that fans had been injured when in fact they had fainted. The Byford Dolphin-like scene remains the worst in NASCAR history.

Source unknown, personally gotten via Youtube thumbnail
2017-08-17 20.04.51
Credit to Associated Press

Below is a link to an uncensored copy of the former photo. It is extremely graphic, so view at your own risk.





Unbelievably, the race actually continued.

After a quick investigation by future NASCAR President Mike Helton, track president Humpy Wheeler, and several more officials, organizers decided to continue with the race. Thirty-three minutes after the crash, at a few minutes before 5:00 p.m., the race restarted. Gary Laton was the one in victory circle at day`s end.

The next day, the remaining drivers ran the second race of the doubleheader, another 67 lap race, won by Lester Lesneski. Neither driver mentioned the crash in victory lane.

Charlotte had held 30 Sportsman races in its history. In those 30 races, 15 drivers had gone to the hospital with some sort of injury or burn, three had been killed (oddly enough, both Phillips and Batson died in a battle for tenth), all due to someone having a great idea to throw drivers with little experience on tracks over a half mile on a track much larger than that without any mandatory training or testing. A few weeks after the accident, Humpy Wheeler asked John Phillips what he thought should be done with the series, to which John replied, ‘You don’t want to hear what I think.’ (Charlotte Observer)

The NASCAR Sportsman Division was canned in late November, but it would actually last for one more year on the short tracks. However, with the point of the series gone and its reputation destroyed, few teams or spectators cared, and the NASCAR Sportsman Division was cancelled once and for all after 1996.

Graduates of the Sportsman Division include Trucks legends Dennis Setzer and Todd Bodine, 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, Busch Series veteran Jason Keller, Trucks long runner Michael Dokken, ARCA winner and crew chief to Dale Sr. Kirk Shelmerdine, Dash Series champion Robert Huffman, and short track expert Robbie Faggart. All of these drivers had moved up by the 1992 season except for Shelmerdine and Faggart.

Faggart ran a few Busch races into the early 2000s. He attempted seven Cup races but never qualified. Faggart was racing in legend cars as of 2017.

A bit of a footnote, the Sportsman Division did not crown champions in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and was more of an exhibition series. As mentioned, in 1992, Robbie Faggart was the champion. No records as to who the champions between 1993 and 1996 were exist, though it appears Tim Bender was the champion in 1993 and Marty Ward in 1994, 1995, and 1996.

The Phillips family decided to stay off the race track afterwards, but remained fans of the sport itself. John Phillips went on to have a family of his own, as did the other Phillips children. Robert Phillips died in 2015 at the age of 80.

Jennifer appears to have never remarried. She said to SCR that she usually attended Sportsman races that Russell was in, but for the first time she could not due to an appointment. Russell’s fatal crash occurred a few minutes before she arrived at the Speedway.

Steven ran in the NASCAR Southeast Series for a couple of years before heading elsewhere in 2005. Steven Howard died on February 6th, 2011 of an unknown heart condition. He would have turned 37 the next day.

In 1996, Dale Earnhardt was hooked into the outside wall at Talladega. The car hit the wall with such force that it overturned, and during its roll it was struck in the windshield. Despite a nearly head-on first hit and a second hit so hard that the windshield gave way, Earnhardt survived with somewhat minor injuries. Due to both this and Russell’s accident, the Earnhardt Bar was introduced to act as an extra windshield support. It was upgraded after Ryan Newman’s crash at Talladega in 2009, so hopefully the combined Earnhardt and Newman Bars will prevent such an accident from ever happening again.



‘Remembering Russell Phillips’ – Article from the January 1996 issue of Stock Car Racing magazine

‘Death At The Track’ – Article from the November 11, 2001 edition of the Charlotte Observer

‘Waltrip Brothers Special’ – Google Groups post made on June 6th, 2001 by Erik Bondurant

‘DRIVER KILLED INSTANTLY IN GRIM CRASH’ – Article from the October 6th, 1995 editioon of the Greensboro News & Record

‘Steven Howard – Not Your Average All-American’ – Article from the October 23rd, 1996 issue of Racing News by Richard Cunningham

‘In Memory Of Robert Lee “Bob” Phillips Jr.’ – Obituary from Dignity Memorial

‘Concord Motor Speedway Big 10 Report’ – Article posted to Sporttoday on October 11th, 1995

“‘Gruesome’ wreck at Charlotte track kills driver” – Article from the October 7th, 1995 edition of The Gaston Gazette